Arena was released in 1989, directed by Peter Manoogian and made by Empire Productions. The company that also produced such classics as Re-Animator and Robot Jox.
The film has only two and a half stars on IMDb and only one and a half on RottenTomatoes (well, 32%) but I enjoyed it, it earned four stars from me anyway. What can I say, it just suited my taste.
The film is based around a deep-space space station that plays host to a major fighting league. The mechanics work based on a system of best of three fights wherein a contestant wins by forcing their opponent out of the fight zone.
Though it doesn’t seem to be a matter of rules, there are no fight that take place between two of the same species in the film. There is a balancing system that disorients the stronger species of the fight to make things more evenly matched. This being the only thing making it viable for human combatants.
This bodes well for the protagonist of the film, Steve Armstrong, played by Paul Satterfield. He moved to the station in hopes of competing only to learn of the league corruption, changing his ambition to find a way back to Earth.
He loses his job in a fast food place defending his friend, Shorty, played by Hamilton Camp, from a belligerent customer who just so happens to be a fighter. This earns him the interest of a manager but he has no interest in the shadow of the formerly glorious fighting league.
Through happenstance however, i.e. Shorty stealing from a mob boss to buy Steve a ticket to Earth, he is forced to sign up to pay the guy back for Shorty’s sake.
The film then follows his rise through the ranks as the only major contender not owned by Rogor, the aforementioned mob boss, played by Marc Alaimo. His passion is also quickly rekindled, snuffing his desire to return to Earth.
I wasn’t convinced until the end of the film that Rogor as supposed to be an alien, albeit just a humanoid with silver skin. And even then it could be just as reasonably a fashion thing, he’s shown in brighter scenes at first where you really can’t tell, you can see there’s something with his skin but not necessarily that it’s silver.
The monster designs and practical effects are all well done, though admittedly they all seem very similarly textured or some just wearing morph suits for the less detailed areas, and one of the more noticeable points of dissonance was seeing the alien claws bending as their hits connect. But eh, nitpicks, there’re only one or two characters this applies to.
One other thing that’s notable about the film is the late eighties sci-fi fashion, there’s something flashy in almost every crowd shot, here’s just a few for you to see for yourself…
The runtime is about an hour and forty minutes including credits and is available for viewing on Netflix if it has caught your interest.
Bonus pic, Steve’s ridiculous fight uniform.